Compassionate Care in New York During Lunar New Year and Beyond: Chapter Three

Northeast  |  April 15, 2021
The very first Tzu Chi bamboo bank Meilian Deng “adopted” 20 years ago, which she still uses today. Photo/Daphne Liu

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska

Tzu Chi New York has a tradition, which is, at the end of each lunar year, to distribute gift bags to seniors and long-term care recipients while bringing heartfelt best wishes. The practice has been going on for five years. Many look forward to their visits and company since the volunteers have helped them get through low points in their lives. Some even became volunteers themselves because of this ongoing custom. And sadly, a few of the care recipients Tzu Chi volunteers got to know passed away during that time. 

 “Compassionate Care in New York During Lunar New Year and Beyond: Chapter Three” is the third in a series of four blogs sharing stories about New Yorkers under Tzu Chi USA’s long-term care. The gifts Tzu Chi New York volunteers offer during the Lunar New Year celebration period are just one part of their ongoing support.

Meilian Deng

It’s hard to predict if substantial hardship or misfortune will befall someone’s life, and should unfortunate events or circumstances arise if they will be able to eventually turn the tables on what fate decreed and nurture it into a blessing in disguise. Meilian Deng certainly never expected what happened in her life, despite her best efforts to fulfill her desires and attain her goals.  

Meilian Deng, who hails from Malaysia, spent all her savings, accumulated over half of her working life, to finally come to New York City, which was her dream. And yet, she quickly found herself in a bind after a string of incidents, accidents, and illnesses. 

It was then that Tzu Chi USA entered the picture, its volunteers extending a helping hand, which enabled her to get a new lease on life. Although her living situation still isn’t easy, she feels as happy as a bird flapping through a dark winding tunnel, at the end of which the sun will shine on her once again. 

“Precious Buddha, we dedicate to all sentient beings, to the ten Realms of Existence, to our pure Buddha Nature, to those who are sick and down on their luck…” With eyes closed and her palms pressed together, Meilian prays piously, determined to turn her blessings towards all beings so that they may benefit from them. 

But beyond prayer, Meilian also puts her noble intentions fastidiously into action. Each day, she donates to support Tzu Chi’s humanitarian missions, saving up the charitable funds in a Tzu Chi bamboo bank, which she then brings to one of Tzu Chi USA’s offices once it’s full.

The very first bamboo bank she “adopted” – as Tzu Chi volunteers are known to say when someone takes one home – was shaped like a length of thick bamboo but made from plastic, and she has kept it to this very day. On the fading sticker attached on the outside, a message is printed: “Compassion oozes out by the hour, wisdom rakes in by the day.” These words of Dharma Master Cheng Yan have been close to her heart for two decades already.

Whenever Tzu Chi readies up for fundraising endeavors, all the volunteers need to do is to give me a Tzu Chi sticker, which I stick on the barrel. And then the routine begins again: Saving up money I donate for the cause. It has been like this for about twenty years.

And those two decades have not been free of troubles or mishaps. Meilian Deng departed from Malaysia to come to the U.S. and pursue her dreams in 2000. But never would she have imagined that a few years later, she would develop breast cancer. Then, as if it still weren’t enough, an automobile accident befell her. Lonesome, penniless, with neither legal status nor insurance, she was in dire straits when Tzu Chi reached out to her over ten years ago.

I was deeply touched. Tzu Chi volunteers helped foot the bills, paying rent. Brothers and sisters often provided daily essentials, helping to tide me over to the side of the dry shore. It would never have happened to me had it not been for Master Cheng Yen.

“After recuperating, she returned to work and thus joined our Tzu Chi volunteer team with dedication. When some sisters return to Taiwan, Meilian immediately steps in to help collect funds,” Dehua Hong, a volunteer, shares. Dehua strongly feels that Meilian understands Master Cheng Yen’s teachings deeply, right down to her bones, “Compassion is the power of life!” 

As for Meilian, she recounts that every interaction she has had with Tzu Chi volunteers accords her a warm fuzzy feeling: “Tzu Chi is genuinely helping out and caring for people with heartfelt sincerity.”

Ahead of the Lunar New Year of 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers went to visit Meilian, bringing a gift bag as per their custom annually. Their gesture was not just to show Meilian that they care about her, but also to express their appreciation for the fact that she also cares, returning kindness with kindness to Tzu Chi, in word, deed, funds, and kind.

Putting her complete trust in the Dharma and enjoying being part of the Tzu Chi family, Meilian manages to volunteer whenever she can squeeze some time out while meeting her other obligations. Moreover, she also supports Tzu Chi’s missions even during the pandemic, when her resources have shrunk due to reduced work hours. 

It is probably because of the sheer hardship Meilian Deng has gone through that she feels like helping those who need help now and who are then enabled to help others later on. This is just a simple process, which means returning the favor Tzu Chi renders with a grateful heart.

Blessed with a new lease on life thanks in part to Tzu Chi’s charity, Meilian Deng, having overcome life’s obstacles with the help of a spiritual and material leg-up, often contemplates the marvel of life and the value of health. That is why she avails herself fully of every opportunity to give back so others’ fate can also change for the better.

Tzu Chi USA has long-term charity cases under its protective wing nationwide. Your love can help support them, making an immeasurable difference for people undergoing difficult struggles that life can thrust upon anyone unexpectedly.

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